Rana Plaza, 2 Years Later: Garment Workers Under Siege

April 24 is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,130 garment workers. The AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell reports that in the months after the 2013 tragedy, global outrage spurred much-needed changes, including the closing of dozens of unsafe factories, the adoption of the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and, most significantly, the formation and recognition of workers’ unions by the Bangladeshi government.

But in recent months, those freedoms are increasingly rare, say garment workers and union leaders….Despite garment workers’ desire to join a union, they increasingly face barriers to do so, including employer intimidation, threatened or actual physical violence, loss of jobs and government-imposed barriers to registration. Regulators also seem unwilling to penalize employers for unfair labor practices.

In addition, thousands of workers still toil in unsafe factories. In the two years since the fire at Tazreen Fashions, at least 31 workers have died in garment factory fire incidents in Bangladesh, and more than 900 people have been injured (excluding Rana Plaza), according to Solidarity Center data.

Read the full story here, and on Wednesday be sure to check back with the Solidarity Center for stories from the survivors and about the lack of sufficient compensation for survivors and families of those killed.

Read more herehere and here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Walmart, Fast-Food Workers Lead Nationwide Fight for $15 Strike

Today, tens of thousands of Walmart workers, fast-food, retail and other low-wage workers are engaged in a massive, nationwide strike in their fight for $15 an hour, consistent full-time hours and the right to join a union.

Lisa Pietro, a two-year Walmart employee from Winter Haven, Fla., who made just $8.95 an hour before Walmart’s recent increase to a minimum of $9 an hour, said:

I’m proud to be part of a growing movement of moms and dads, brothers and sisters like me, who are standing up for better jobs. A company like Walmart, which brings in $16 billion in annual profits, can afford to provide the pay and hours that our families need. The raise we just won at Walmart shows what working people can accomplish when we stand together.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

The voices of Walmart and fast-food workers have shown the power of collective action in standing up to corporate greed and a system that for far too long has only benefited those at the very top.

Since the Black Friday Walmart strikes and the fast-food workers strikes began more than two years ago, the movement for $15 an hour, full-time work and consistent scheduling has grown to include retail workers, home care providers, airport workers, adjunct professors and more and gained support around the globe.

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The growing voice of the workers and support from their communities and many lawmakers has pressured employers like Walmart, McDonald’s and others to raise wages some but not nearly close to $15. Said Trumka:

While some wages have been raised, there is much work to be done, and workers will continue to speak out until wages are fair, conditions are improved and every voice is heard in the workplace.

For more, see #Fightfor15.
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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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How Much Progress for Women in Past 20 Years?

This is a cross-post from the Solidarity Center.

As more than 8,500 union members and other civil society activists gather at the United Nations in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women meeting, new research shows women have made some gains in the two decades since the landmark global meeting on women in Beijing but continue to suffer from economic insecurity and widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace.

Fewer women are in the workforce today, according to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO). In 1995, 52% of women and 80% of men were in the workforce, the ILO report finds. Today the participation rate for women is 50%, compared to 77% for men, reflecting in part the effects of the global recession.

Further, ILO research shows that women continue to be overrepresented in low-wage jobs that offer little security and few, if any, benefits. Women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes—a rate that means women will not achieve pay equity with men before 2086. Women also work many hours without pay, a point made by an interactive, online report produced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation and Economist Intelligence Unit.

Unions are sponsoring several workshops and events during the CSW meetings, including a March 11 panel discussion, “Women’s Economic Empowerment and Labor Rights: Beijing +20 and Beyond.” Sponsored in part by the Solidarity Center, the panel will discuss how working women are fighting for fair wages and working conditions, equal job opportunities, and freedom from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Panelists include AFL-CIO International Department Director Cathy Feingold, Bangladesh garment worker activist Kalpona Akter and Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).

This year’s CSW meeting marks 20 years since the fourth women’s world conference in Beijing, when 189 governments identified and signed an agreement to improve 12 areas key to empowering women, including “the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women.” During the next two weeks, CSW participants will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations. Some 164 countries conducted national reviews of the status of women, and the CSW will review these reports, along with contributions from civil society.

“Governments acknowledge that women’s labor sustains families and nations,” says Lisa McGowan, Solidarity Center senior specialist for gender equality. “It is time that governments step up and devote the full political commitment and resources needed to sustain women, and ensure their labor and human rights.”

Established in 1946, the CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

On Monday, the UN approved a political declaration on the status of women and girls. Union activists and women’s and human rights groups say that the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Political Declaration at UNCSW59 were held in advance, and consultation with civil society was kept to a minimum. As a result, the content of the declaration is not as strong and forward-looking as it could have been.

The change in process has been denounced by nearly 1,000 organizations, including Public Services International (PSI), Education International (EI), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Canadian Labour Congress. Historically, the CSW has adopted declarations or “agreed conclusions” after a two-week session that includes robust civil society participation.

Other trade union events during the CSW include a discussion on organizing migrant women and decent work for domestic workers, and an event titled “Women and Sustainable Economy from a Human Rights Perspective.” More events here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Could Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Survive One of His Company’s Own Warehouses for a Week?

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That’s the question Nancy Becker, an American employed by Amazon in Germany since 2001, asked as she trekked to Seattle this week to stand up for the rights of workers in the online retailer’s “fulfillment centers.” The centers—little more than warehouses where workers are faced with near-impossible workloads for minimal pay—are the subject of rallies in Seattle and Germany on Monday. Becker traveled from her workplace in Germany, “I’m coming to Seattle to dare Jeff Bezos to try working as a picker for a single week. I’m sure he would not survive.”

In recent months, workers at Amazon’s warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig and Graben in Germany have engaged in a series of rolling strikes. They are hoping to increase pressure on Amazon by sending protesters to the company’s Seattle headquarters, where they were joined by American workers also opposed to the low wages and harsh work conditions that the company’s American warehouses share.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

We welcome the German Amazon workers and their union, ver.di, to the United States. Just as German workers have stood in support of U.S. workers employed by global corporations, we join your fight for fairness at one of the largest corporate retailers in the world. It’s time that Amazon make good on its obligations to its workers, not just its shareholders and executives, and we will be there in Seattle to make our voices heard.

The complaints about Amazon are pretty similar in both countries: “The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” said Stefanie Nutzenberger, a board member of ver.di, the union representing the German Amazon workers. Instead of classifying fulfillment center workers as retail employees, the company calls them “logistics” workers and then pays them lower rates than they would have to pay retail workers. This misclassification allows the company to claim that it’s paying workers a higher wage for their field than other companies, when the reality is they would have significantly higher wages if correctly classified as retail workers. And despite claims that Amazon has made about safety being a top priority, “Last month, an investigation by the BBC’s “Panorama” program into a U.K.-based Amazon warehouse found conditions a stress expert said could cause ‘mental and physical illness.’”

Workers categorized the conditions similarly:

“The workers are treated more as robots than human,” Markus Hoffmann-Achenbach, an organizer for Ver.di at the Amazon warehouse in the city of Werne, said by email. He was on his way to Seattle to participate in the demonstration.

“As a worldwide company,” Mr. Hoffmann-Achenbach added, “Amazon should treat their workers fairly and with respect in every country. The solidarity of American unions and ver.di, the united services union of Germany, is a sign that social movements are not bounded by national borders and that in times of globalization, the workers worldwide stand together as one.”

Amazon officials seemed to have little sympathy for their own workers:

But Amazon’s German country head Ralf Kleber said the company had no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers and was more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, he told Reuters in an interview last month.

You can almost hear Kleber ending the sentence with a “bah” or a “humbug.”

Photo by jurvetson on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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